Last week it was Newsweek, the week before it was “Forbes Magazine – both declaring that New Orleans is a dying city!
These articles are likely to become self-fulfilling prophesies if we do not have the courage and foresight to change our current course. I refuse to accept this as our fate. We hold in our hands the power to determine our own destiny.
The most effective way to change course is to create a world class system of higher education in the New Orleans region. Most of the cities we compete with have developed a higher education system designed to drive their economies forward. Sadly, and to our detriment, the New Orleans region has no such system.
To address this significant problem, I authored a Senate Resolution during the 2010 legislative session that required the Board of Regents to develop a plan to recreate the higher education system in the New Orleans region. Recently, the governor asked the Board of Regents to expand the scope of this study to include an examination of the possibility of merging SUNO and UNO. Despite what supporters of maintaining the status quo are saying, the sole intent of this resolution was for the Board of Regents to design a world class system of higher education for our region. It was not, and is not, based upon any preconceived ideas of what should be done with any existing institution.
The Board of Regents has a constitutional duty to develop a master plan for higher education. This master plan should ensure that we have the very finest system of higher education. Unfortunately, our current structure fails to live up to this standard, which is why I authored legislation directing the Board of Regents to initiate a study of our region’s higher education delivery system. When the board completes their study and makes their recommendations to the legislature, we must take decisive action to effect the changes necessary to provide the world class higher educational system our region needs and deserves.
On February 15th, a lawsuit was filed in the 19th Judicial District Court and the Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the Board of Regents from continuing this study process. Instead of joining in our effort to help all the citizens of our region, these protectors of the status quo chose to use the Court to stop a legitimate inquiry. It must be noted here that the Board of Regents, by law, cannot act unilaterally to close or merge any existing school. Only the legislature has that power, and only then by a two-thirds vote. It is a shame that anyone would resort to misusing the legal system to shut down open discourse on such an important issue.
If our region is to thrive, or even survive, in the 21st century, we simply must create institutions of higher education that lead to success for all citizens, as well as the growth of family and business wealth.
We, as citizens of the New Orleans region, must wake up and demand bold action. Our economy and way of life depends upon making creative changes to our higher education system. I firmly believe that this can be done to the benefit of all without abandoning our history or culture. However, to do otherwise dooms us to a diminished quality of life.
Sen. Conrad Appel represents District 9, which includes Elmwood, Jefferson and parts of Metairie in Jefferson Parish.